Myanmar Told to Brace for Major COVID-19 Outbreak as Returning Migrant Among New Cases

By Nan Lwin 30 March 2020

YANGON—Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports warned on Sunday that the country is at very high risk of a “major outbreak” of COVID-19 as large numbers of migrant workers return from Thailand. Myanmar has confirmed a total of 10 cases of the disease.

On late Sunday, Myanmar found two more COVID-19-positive patients in Yangon, including one who recently returned from Thailand via Myawaddy, a border town in Karen State.

The 44-year-old man returned to Myanmar from Thailand via Myawaddy on March 23. He was admitted to the People’s Hospital in Pale Myothit, Yangon after showing COVID-19 symptoms including a fever and cough. The other patient is a 45-year-old man who had close contact with a previously identified COVID-19 patient.

According to MOHS data, more than 23,000 people returned to Myanmar from Thailand via Myawaddy from March 19 to 28.

Union Health and Sports Minister U Myint Htwe said the returnees had already returned to locations all over Myanmar, adding there was a high risk that they could spread COVID-19.

U Myint Htwe said health officials had ramped up their efforts to collect data needed to map the returnees’ locations, designate restricted areas for them and monitor whether they were following quarantines rules.

According to the MOHS, a large number of returnees are in Karen and Mon states, as well as Yangon Region.

Last week, thousands of migrant workers returned to Myanmar through land border gates with Thailand. The MOHS ordered that the returnees isolate themselves at home for 14 days, as there are too many returnees for quarantine centers to handle.

The MOHS has called for public participation and understanding in enforcing measures against COVID-19. It has urged the public to stay at home, to report to health authorities if there are suspected COVID-19 patients in their area, or if they suspect that they themselves may be carrying the disease, or if they know of someone who has a recent history of travel to a foreign country.

The ministry asked citizens to follow all instructions issued by health authorities.

Myanmar health authorities added to their list of individuals under investigation over 470 people who had close contact with the country’s first eight confirmed positive patients. The 470 have been ordered to self-isolate.

The MOHS said health officials are also in negotiations to obtain rapid-diagnosis test kits approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and are setting up a public health laboratory in Mandalay. Currently, only one public health laboratory, located in Yangon, is equipped to carry out lab tests to diagnose suspected cases of COVID-19.

Last week, the government ordered mandatory quarantines at government facilities for all travelers arriving by air from any country, except diplomats and UN officials.

As a precautionary measure, the government also ordered half of its employees to stay at home. Healthcare providers, including doctors and nurses assigned to government hospitals across the country, are exempt from the measure.

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